The MaineCDC has announced that the first case of the variant B.1.1.7 was detected in Franklin County, Maine yesterday. In fact, nine hundred thirty-two (932) cases of the variant have now been detected in 34 other states in the US as of Tuesday according to Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of the MaineCDC.
According to Dr. Shah, at today’s press briefing, data indicates that this new variant spreads more easily than the current COVID-19. It is more contagious – perhaps 40% – 50% more contagious than the current COVID-19, Dr. Shah said. The good news is that the two vaccines currently in use – Pfizer and Moderna – are effective immunizations in preventing the virus.
A resident of Franklin County developed symptoms in early February and tested positive for COVID-19. A sample was sent to an independent laboratory as part of the MaineCDC’s process to identify potential COVID-19 variants. The MaineCDC was notified yesterday. “The individual is dong well. Members of his household have also gotten COVID-19 and everyone is doing okay,” said Dr. Shah of the Franklin County individual.
Dr. Shah clarified that this detection was made possible because of an early partnership with the Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, on genomic sequencing that enabled researchers to determine if and where the variants from the COVID-19 have emerged in the state. Other states are just beginning to get up to speed on this according to Dr. Shah. Recently researchers have identified three new variants of the COVID-19. They include: B.l.l.7 from UK, a second variant from South Africa and the third one from Brazil.
A member of the press asked Dr. Shah about Maine families spending their upcoming spring vacations in Florida. “Don’t let you guard down,” advised Dr. Shah to those families. He reminded that anyone returning from a vacation in Florida needs to follow Governor Mills guidelines for re-entering the state. “Florida has the highest number of new variants than any other state,” he commented.
Those who are 70 years and older continue to be the priority for vaccinations in the state of Maine. Dr. Shah said that 65,0000 who are 70 years and older have received their first vaccine: that is one-third of the 70 plus population has received its first dose of the vaccination to date.
It was noted that Wal-Mart stores still plan on offering vaccinations to that population starting tomorrow Friday, February 12, 2021. That’s the plan despite the fact that the website has been down since yesterday. Dr. Shah said that the website is expected to be up and running by 5:30 pm today. He is monitoring the situation and in close contact with Wal-Mart.
Dr. Shah said that he is somewhat optimistic because of the reduced number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. However, the discovery of the new variant in Maine, is “worrisome” because of its contagious nature and the possibility of more severe cases it introduces to Maine residents. Dr. Shah recommended that Mainers double mask for extra protection and be certain that the mask(s) are a close face fit.